Activism, Resistance, and Sustainability Joint Convening
Monday, Aug 07, 2017

Building the Bench (BTB) and Membership and Sustainability Convening

August 7-9, 2017

Tommy Douglas Conference Center, Silver Spring, MD


Joint Session Goals:

  • To share what we are doing and learning about growing powerful, leader-ful membership organizations of low-wage workers including how to engage and sustain those members and leaders. Look closely at distributed leadership models that have been used successfully in electoral settings and see what is applicable or useful in our organizations.
  • To generate insights and new ideas about developing models and structures for growth.

Building the Bench Goals:

  • Deepen relationships and connections with one another and create a snapshot of the current moment.

  • Explore ways to align strategy in a rapidly changing environment across affiliates/local partners/chapters.

  • Experiment with peer coaching, which helps generate possibilities around a challenge with conflicting polarities.

  • Discuss ways to support our learning moving forward.

Membership Building and Leadership Development Goals:

  • Identify, develop and/or strengthen structures and systems to build and maintain membership
  • Investigate whether and how to create a dues paying system and base as part of our organizations and how it fits into our theory of change and power.
  • Discuss union/worker center partnerships—how they can be strengthened/improved and what they contribute.
  • To strengthen and create relationships between participants and build ongoing learning communities

Focus: The first day allowed participants to learn about effective distributed leadership practices, gain deeper insights into how these models can inform their own organizations, and create stronger communities of learning and practice. They also shared their experiences and worked on practical problems and as well as issues with implementation from groups who are experimenting with these models. 

The second day included concurrent sessions where each group could address high priority issues. The Building the Bench group included seventeen senior leaders, Managing/Deputy Directors and Executive Directors, from 14 national and regional worker center/community organizing networks, and they engaged in deep cross-movement discussions around opportunities and challenges, given the current environment. Through a peer learning process, participants developed a snapshot of our current socio-political moment and how it impacts their work. They collectively named complex issues and shared practical solutions and tools across networks. They also began discussing alignment strategies for this rapidly changing environment and worked with a polarity management tool for one-on-one peer coaching.

The Membership and Leadership Development group included over 50 experienced leaders in the field from worker centers, community organizations, and worker center networks from across the country. Participants were actively engaged in discussions, some presented their work on panels, and they had opportunities for networking.  This group also visited a Maryland based organization, CASA, to learn more about their organizing, leadership, and governance models. Along with distributed leadership models, they explored organizational membership recruitment strategies and had an open discussion about union partnerships with a focus on best practices and challenges. One major objective for the group was to facilitate a conversation amongst worker centers interested in different distributed leadership models, membership recruitment, and establishing other partnerships.

Attendees: Over 75 participants attended the conference from economic justice organizations, including local, regional and national worker centers/community organizations and their networks. Some of the organizations represented include: National Domestic Workers Alliance, Jobs with Justice, Partnership for Working Families, CTUL, Pilipino Worker Center, National Black Worker Center Partnership, Workers Dignity, Chinese Progressive Association, United We Dream and many others. 

This convening was made possible by the generous support of the Ford Foundation, Surdna Foundation, Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and General Services Foundation.

The event was organized by Rutgers SMLR’s Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO).